Celebrating the Birth of the 'Prince of Peace' in Violent Times
Examining God's action-oriented call to peace.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Today, we celebrate the birth of Christ, the one we call The Prince of Peace. For many of us, myself included, in 2015, peace seemed further away than it’s ever been. Six days into the New Year, we learned Boko Haram had killed a village of over 2,000 men women and children in Nigeria.
That very same day, we were confronted with the attack on the French publication Charlie Hebdo. In June, a young man spurred on by racial hatred murdered nine Black Christians in the sanctuary of a church. In November another attack on Paris, in December more mass shootings, all while war relentlessly raged on in Syria, South Sudan and dozens of places with names too foreign and people too poor to garner our attention.
This year, we’ve seen churches burn, mosques burn, people meet violence with greater violence and suffering with greater suffering. This onslaught has left me asking during this advent season, What does it mean for Jesus to be a Prince of Peace, and what does it mean for me to be an agent of that peace? What does it mean to be a part of this great court of believers eagerly awaiting the Prince of Peace to assume the throne? What should we do while waiting for His final and absolute peace to be administered?
I think the first thing we have to do is subject our current definition of peace to scrutiny.
We have developed definitions that are different from God’s definition. Common uses of the word peace in English can refer to anything from the absence of war to freedom from disturbance to a command for silence.
But as Christians we know God’s peace is different. Paul tells us we are at war not against flesh and blood but against principalities.
Jesus is constantly disturbing us, offending us and making us uncomfortable, while He shapes us into His image. And as prophets and truth-tellers, God tells us to hear from the Holy Spirit and speak His word in power. This is all part of the Kingdom. This is the work involved in living under the peace and reign of Christ.
When Jesus says in Luke “think ye not that I came to bring peace,” I think He is referring to the world’s definition of peace, that false peace that allows good people to stand by while powers take advantage of the poor, while families are uprooted and brokenness and violence reign. To this peace, Jesus is a sword.
So during this advent season, do we merely offer pity to Syrian refugees and fall short of true sorrow and concern? Do we just hope things get better in the Central African Republic and leave it at that? No. We weep with those who weep and we mourn with those who mourn.
As believers, we fervently petition the Lord to intervene. We pray specific prayers for specific people. We speak their names. We speak to their plight, and we command it to move. Whatever peace looks like, it does not look like passivity. It is not a distant wish.
God’s peace is dynamic and relational. It is action oriented, and it challenges the status quo.
When we pray for peace in this world, we are asking God to do the messy work of putting flesh on dry bones. A part of that work is rousing us from our pleasant and complacent sleep so that we may both aid and witness the restoration of life to the dead.
I hope you join me this Christmas in praying these messy prayers, the prayers that require not only hearts and minds but hands and feet.
For the last five days of 2015, Evangelicals For Peace is uniting people to pray for areas of conflict around the world. You can learn more at evangelicalsforpeace.org
Alysia Harris is a poet-linguist-follower of Jesus and project consultant with Pathways for Mutual Respect. She has toured for the last 5 years and performed at the United Nations, as well as in Canada, Sudan, South Africa, Germany, Slovakia, and the UK.
John Hartley is Executive Director of Pathways for Mutual Respect and a research scholar at Yale University.